Coming Af-NPak Conflict – No “Soft Power” Needed from India

Last week, we discussed the coming conflict between Afghanistan & NonPakistan in our article about Nawaz Sharif’s election. Ideally, this should provide opportunities to India. Unfortunately, Indian leaders are judged by all other countries as incoherent weak people who engage in empty rhetoric.

This week, Afghanistan joined this chorus by telling India in frank and candid terms to take its “soft power” and essentially shove it. As London-based Harsh Pant wrote in DNA this week:

  • “Finally, Afghanistan has decided that enough is enough. It has made clear in no uncertain terms what it wants from India. And what it wants and badly needs is a robust security partnership with India that includes supply of weapons and defence hardware. The pretence that India’s ‘soft power’ engagement in Afghanistan will be enough, is gone.”

According to Mr. Pant, such a blunt message was delivered this week to Indian leaders by Shaida Abdali, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to India. Mr. Pant elaborated:

  • It is critically important that the two countries…deepen and talk
    about more substantive issues beyond than training and other soft
    ,” Abdali suggested. He went on to underline that India and
    Afghanistan “are required to sit down and discuss the contours of our
    security and defence cooperation to ensure predictability, to ensure
    protection of common cause which is self defence against any perceived
    threats to our two nations

This verbal message was followed this week by a demand for military hardware by President Hamid Karzai during his visit to New Delhi. What hardware does Karzai want? According to an article in,

  • “The key hardware Afghanistan wants include hand-me-down A2.A18 105-milimeter howitzer, a robust and rugged weapon India has used for years.”
  • “In addition, Afghanistan wants urgent assistance to get its mothballed fleet of Antonov An.32 medium transport aircraft back into the air.”
  • “Karzai wants to have the six An.32s given to his country by the Soviet Union refitted in the Ukraine, where the Indian Air Force is upgrading its own fleet of 105 aircraft.”
  • “The Afghan army may, in the future, also consider requesting service infrastructure for its helicopter fleet India.”

This list suggests that Afghanistan is trying to get ready for an Af-NonPak conflict after America withdraws the bulk of US forces in 2014.

India has trumpeted its involvement in Afghanistan for the past several years. But those efforts were “soft” efforts under the protection of American forces in Afghanistan. Will India have the guts, the determination to raise its involvement to a “hard” level?

We seriously doubt it. Prime Minister ManMohan Singh has done nothing in the past 9 years to suggest he is even capable of contemplating a “hard” role. Mr. Harsh Pant seems to agree. Read his own harsher opinion:

  • “Even as India has signed a strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan promising to enhance its role in Afghan security sector, it has at the same time been reducing its economic footprint in Afghanistan. As a result, New Delhi has not only complicated its own future options but it has also lost allies who are having difficulty in viewing India as a credible partner in the emerging strategic realities in Afghanistan. As the western forces prepare to leave Afghanistan in the coming year, India stands at a crossroads where it remains keen to preserve its interests in Afghanistan but has refused to step up its role as a regional security provider.”

The bottom line?

  • “India will either have to step up to the challenge or get ready to be forever marginalised in Afghanistan and beyond.”

What will India’s leadership do? Praveen Swami of FirstPost has no doubts:

  • “New Delhi, not for the first time, thus  has to make a hard choice. If the past is a guide, though, it will likely impale itself to the fence.”

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